Peter Nichols

Peter Richard Nichols[1] CBE FRSL (31 July 1927 – 7 September 2019[2]) was an English playwright, screenwriter, director and journalist.

Peter Richard Nichols
Born(1927-07-31)31 July 1927
Bristol, England
Died7 September 2019(2019-09-07) (aged 92)
Oxford, England
Occupationplaywright, screenwriter, director, journalist

Life and career

Born in Bristol, England, he was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and served his compulsory National Service as a clerk in Calcutta and later in the Combined Services Entertainment Unit in Singapore[3] where he entertained the troops alongside John Schlesinger, Stanley Baxter, and Kenneth Williams,[4] before going on to study acting at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He later claimed to have studied acting because there were no dedicated courses for playwrights.[3] While he was working as a teacher he began to write television plays which achieved notice. His first play for the stage was The Hooded Terror, part of a season of new plays at the Little Theatre in Bristol. He later wrote A Day in the Death of Joe Egg for the stage.[4]

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg is a one-set drama in music hall style. The National Health is a fantasy farce, also interrupted by vaudeville. Privates on Parade is a musical comedy, partly inspired by Nichols's own experiences in the Combined Services Entertainments Unit.[4] Poppy takes the form of a Christmas pantomime.

Despite the comic style, Nichols' plays deal with the most serious of themes. In A Day in the Death of Joe Egg the burden of raising a hopelessly handicapped child shatters a couple's marriage. The patients of The National Health suffer and die, as do the singing soldiers of Privates on Parade. In Poppy, a pantomime take on the Chinese opium wars, Dick Whittington's girlfriend becomes a drug addict. Passion Play (known as Passion in the United States), focuses on adultery and betrayal. In Blue Murder, a comic satire about play censorship, a constable investigates a death.

Nichols is often considered an especially autobiographical playwright, and chronicled much of the background to his plays in his published autobiography and diaries. Joe Egg is based on Nichols' own experiences of raising a handicapped child, The National Health draws on a hospital stay of his own, while Privates on Parade draws on his own military experiences.

Nichols was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2018 New Year Honours for services to drama.[5]

He died on 7 September 2019 in Oxford. He was survived by his wife Thelma and three children.[2][6][7]


His plays include:


  • Feeling You're Behind an autobiography by Peter Nichols, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1984) ISBN 0-297-78392-0

'Whatever interest my life may have had must have been exhausted. Yet there were better reasons than vanity – I needed the advance the publishers offered, which was far more generous than any given to me for a play; the theatre itself, once so alluring, now seemed past its best, the wrinkles showing, the kisses dry and dutiful; it would be a bitter pleasure to describe my disenchantment and blame the people who'd done me down; and if I didn't write a book about me, it was clear no one else would."` Peter Nichols' preface, page xi.

  • Peter Nichols: Diaries 1969–1977 by Peter Nichols, Nick Hern Books (2000) ISBN 1-85459-474-5

"Did you know that Maggie Smith once accused Laurence Olivier of having "a tin ear and two left feet"? That's one of many enjoyably acerbic snippets in Peter Nichols' Diaries 1969–77, a period that stretches from the composition of his The National Health to the conception of his masterpiece, Passion Play....Nichols tends to be touchy, crusty, disappointed with himself....yet wonderfully observant, honest and likeable." Benedict Nightingale The Times 13 December 2000.


  • Theatre Record and its annual indexes
  • London Stage in the 20th Century by Robert Tanitch, Haus Books (2007) ISBN 978-1-904950-74-5
  • The National: The Theatre and its work 1963–1997 by Simon Callow, Nick Hern Books (1997) ISBN 1-85459-323-4


  1. "New Year's Honours 2018" (PDF). Government Digital Service. 29 December 2017. p. 18. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  2. "Peter Nichols, playwright best known for Joe Egg, dies aged 92". BBC News. 9 September 2019. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  3. "Theatre Archive Project". British Library. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
  4. Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 351. ISBN 1-84854-195-3.
  5. Entertainment & Arts team (29 December 2017). "In pictures: Entertainment stars recognised in New Year Honours". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  6. Quinn, Michael (10 September 2019). "Obituary: playwright Peter Nichols – 'Never afraid of tackling the thorniest of issues head-on'". The Stage. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  7. Nightingale, Benedict (9 September 2019). "Peter Nichols, Playwright Who Found Comedy in Desperation, Dies at 92". New York Times. Retrieved 1 October 2019.

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